They say a week is a long time in politics. In the football world, Real Madrid’s last two weeks must have seemed like an eternity to coach Carlo Ancelotti.
From seeing his side humiliated by their city rivals Atletico at the Calderon, to having to contend with the fallout from Cristiano Ronaldo’s thirtieth birthday celebrations, he had gone from a man being so revered after delivering the much coveted ‘Decima’—the clubs tenth European Cup—to being a man under some pretty serious scrutiny.
The coach’s role at Los Blancos can rarely be described as safe, but in the last eighteen months Ancelotti has looked like a man confident and in control despite the odd testing time. This latest episode has tested his ability in crisis management and damage limitation.
The decision by Pepe, Marcelo, James Rodriguez and Sami Khedira to attend Ronaldo’s bash just hours after the 0-4 defeat was not taken well by the Madrid media nor by the leaders of the dressing room, specifically Ramos and Casillas. Any chance Sami Khedira had of staying at Madrid past the end of his contract in the summer is surely now over.
Ronaldo’s remarkable drop in form since collecting the Ballon D’or has not gone unnoticed either. The previous intensity and focus that were the hallmarks of Real’s record 22 match winning run have seemingly been misplaced in the last few weeks. Big changes in his private life have undoubtedly had an effect on a player who throughout his time in Madrid has been almost metronomic. Goals have rained down at the Bernabeu from the boot of the world’s best player. His recent loss of form has concerned pundits and fans alike. Some have even been debating as to whether the team would be better without Ronaldo, their stance being that he is so driven and so focused on being the best that it may ultimately be at the cost of the team.
Throughout it all, Ancelotti has stuck by his players and has played down any talk of a rift in his squad. In press conferences he has said recently that the player’s professionalism could not be questioned and that he was confident they would soon bounce back. Talk from the training ground was that the two hour sessions put on in the week between the Atletico defeat and the home win to Deportivo last weekend were intense, focused and that the players responded well to the messages given by the coach and his staff. A visit by President Perez seeking answers from those involved in the birthday debacle also helped to focus a few minds.
The regard Carlo Ancelotti is held in by his players was shown very outwardly in the Champions League win at Schalke on Wednesday night. After Marcelo’s superb strike gave Real a 2-0 lead the players, led by Marcelo and Pepe, ran over to embrace their Boss. This may not have been a particularly spontaneous show of respect and support but it was certainly genuine. Pepe was quoted after the match saying: “We’re a family and the manager is like a father to us”. This in some ways is exactly what he is. He is adept at being the guiding figure: steering them through the chopping waters of the season; protecting them where needed and instilling some discipline when they deserve it.
There is still a long way to go in the La Liga Title Race and the Champions League, but what had the potential to be a disastrous situation has been managed supremely and could end up being the turning point in getting their season back on track.
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